Jung-the unconcious explorer

While most psychologists I’ve written about so far are either strongly scientific or strongly against science, Jung is somewhere inbetween. In his early years, he tried to study very unscientific things such as dreams in a scientific way, so still considered himself a scientist despite being a psychodynamic psychologist.

One of the most famous pairings in psychology is the meeting of minds between Freud and Jung. The first time they met, while both studying schizophrenia, they reportedly talked for 13 hours straight. They joined forces, developing a  father-son relationship- Jung became the crown prince to Freud’s kingdom of psychoanalysis.

Eventually, after Jung published  The Psychology of the Unconscious, they split; Jung’s view of the unconscious had differed from Freud’s, and they could no longer agree on what the unconscious was or on its role.

Many of Jung’s influential ideas were formed from his own experiences. For example, his understanding of neuroses (distress and usually physical illnesses, caused by mental stressors) was  personal. As a child he was knocked unconscious by a bully in school, and developed a neurosis where he would faint when trying to do schoolwork.

Also, his childhood practice of storing messages with a mannequin he had carved  marked the beginning of his theory of the collective unconscious, when he discovered that Native American and Australian tribes had performed an almost-identical ritual many years before.

Freud viewed the unconscious as an appendix to the psyche, but Jung’s view was much more complex- Jung’s two-layered version of the unconscious was incredibly powerful.

The first layer-the personal unconscious-contains everything we have previously learnt and forgotten, as well as everything we have repressed.  So our past as an individual, and some of our views of our current world e.g. context, time and environment, are stored in our personal unconscious.

The second, and more interesting, layer is the collective unconscious.  In 1913, Jung started to have visions of deaths and world destruction. While at the start these caused him to doubt his sanity, WW1 began a few months after they started. Jung believed these precognitive visions were some kind of personal connection with reality and with the world as a whole.

He believed this connection- the collective unconscious-  is not our own past, but the world’s past. In his words, it contains the “ghosts of history”. It contains the sum of human experience, including philosophy, science, religion and myth, and can be described as an “inheritance” of knowledge. The knowledge contained in the collective unconscious expresses itself in symbolism, such as in dreams, but we cannot directly access it. Jung saw this knowledge as a reason for experiences such as deja vu; why we can sometimes intuitively understand things the first time we see them; and even psychic experiences.

Jung also believed that the collective unconscious was populated by archetypes – forms or characters existing across many different cultures. Archetypes are why similar characters exist in the myths and legends of countries separated by distance and time, characters such as the wise old man, or the trickster who tries to derail a hero from their task.

Although much of the content of Jung’s theories sounds very hard to believe, his influence both over psychology and over culture is massive.

For example, Jung was an indirect cause of alcoholics anonymous, and the inspiration of many different forms of literature, art, and even video games. This also extends to the concept of “synchronicity” in physics. In terms of psychology, anyone who has ever used the term “complex”, ever taken an MBTI test, or even called someone an introvert or extrovert, has used an idea based on Jung’s work.

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